Thanksgiving is one of our better ideas. A day set aside (A sabbath?) to give thanks. One of the nice things about Thanksgiving is that we tend to focus on the non commercial- family, friends, health, country, God.
For many folks an important Thanksgiving day ritual is studying the ads and planning their “Black Friday” strategy.
Of course, this year the frantic forces of consumerism- oh, let’s just call it what it is- greed, won’t even allowus one day off. Talk about a jealous taskmaster. This year one could actually shop on Thanksgiving day. N o doubt while giving thanks for the opportunity to spend money in order to save money for one additional day. According to media sources, everyone thinks this is a good idea. In my local paper this morning a district manager for a retail chain is quoted as saying, ” ‘Employees are having a blast [working on Thanksgiving]. We’re having a whole Thanksgiving dinner back there just for them’, he said, motioning to a back room.” ( Note to manager from one who has worked more than a few holidays- your employees would rather be home.)
While thinking about all this, I began to wonder about the connection between shopping and competition. I wonder if part of what contributes to the Black Friday shopping frenzy is the competitive nature of it? The time limits,”One day only!” The limited quantities,”Only 10 per store!” The “lowest prices all season!” TV and newspapers, email and snail mail fliers all tell us we must shop. Everyone else will be there. We will be left out. We will pay too much. Advertisors help us plot strategies to be winners- to get the best deal before someone else does. Serious Black Friday competitors are interviewed by the press and the winners share their stories of triumph. Those of us who aren’t at the store at 3:30 am have lost out on the deal and the fame.
We are as a society, amazingly unreflective about all this. In yesterday’s paper, a woman was quoted, “I don’t know why I’m doing this, but its on sale”.
Now, I’m all for getting a good deal. I shop sales and clip coupons. I think I am being a good steward of our money. If I spend less on consumer goods, we will have more money to do other things with. I know I could be rationalizing here, “I’m prudent and thrifty, while those Black Friday shoppers are greedy”. I hope I’m not doing that. It seems to me the buying frenzy of Black Friday is mostly about winning a competition for limited goods. It’s buying gone mad. Competitive shopping with winners and losers.
And I think there is something more than just greed going on here. We have become a nation of competitors in the most unhealthy sense of the word. Our current competitive state isn’t about competition that encourages us to try harder and be better. This competition is all about winning. From the aisles of Wal-Mart to the halls of Congress – I win, you lose. And somehow, for many of us, I win only if you lose. We are a competitive people who only seem to feel good about ourselves if we can win. Caught up in the heat of the competition, we seldom take time to stop and think about what we’re doing. “I don’t know why I’m doing this…”
I wonder if this unhealthy competitiveness is at the root of many of our problems. Does it prevent us from seeking the common good which tries to create as many winners and as few losers as possible? How on earth did we turn the giving of gifts at Christmas into a competition?
What does this say about us as a society and individuals?
I’d like to know, what do you think?